ART AVARICE

Wanna Buy A Monet?

van Gogh Folkwang Museum
The ship might have sailed for saving Essen's finances.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    • The city’s intentions are unclear, and a 1922 contract seems to stand in the way. But in repaying government debts, everything’s on the balance sheet.
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  • Facts

    Facts

    • In 1922, the citizens of Essen gathered 15 million reichsmarks to go halves with the city to buy the art collection of Karl Ernst Osthaus.
    • In 2007, the city included the art collection on its municipal balance sheet, valued at about €250 million.
    • Essen owes creditors more than €3 billion.
  • Audio

    Audio

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The plan to sell two famous Warhols from the collection of the Westspiel Casinos in Aachen, North Rhine-Wesetphalia, is nothing new. There seems to be a tradition in North Rhine-Westphalia of plugging budgetary shortfalls by selling works of art.

In 2006, the city of Krefeld wanted to sell a painting by Monet and use the €20 million proceeds to renovate the dilapidated Kaiser-Wilhelm Museum. Later the same year, WestLB sold a 1932 painting by Max Beckmann, “Self-Portrait in a Hotel,” to a private art dealer for €13.9 million. A few months later, the same painting was offered at the art fair TEFAF in Maastricht for €30 million.

Now the Warhols will be sold at Christie’s in New York on November 12 for an estimated €100 million, or about $124 million.

The fact that the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia has taken no steps against repeated sales of its artworks owned (at least indirectly) by the public is convenient for the politically motivated budget strategies of Essen. In 2007, the city included the internationally recognized Museum Folkwang art collection on its municipal balance sheets – as assets valued at €250 million.

But according to the contract that Essen signed with the museum association, only 50 percent of the collection’s worth belongs to the city. That supposedly means the city can only dispose of its share if the museum association agrees.

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